5 Chromebook trends that need to die

Acer Spin 713 Chromebook
Acer Spin 713 Chromebook (Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

I love Chromebooks and use them all day, every day. They're great lightweight laptops but can also be understated ultrabooks if you buy the right model. After years, some Chromebook trends have risen — like this year's wave of powerful Project Athena Chromebooks — and some trends are ebbing, but some refuse to give up their ironclad grip on the segment. These trends impact Chromebook development and the long-term usability of these laptops, and so it is with a heavy heart that I ask these zombie trends to walk into chainsaws and finally go to their eternal rest.

First up on the kill list is something that should've died years ago:

1366 x 768 pixel screens need to die (preferably in a fire)

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central

My first Chromebook was a Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebook, which came out in 2014 with a 1366 x 768px IPS touchscreen. I'm sitting here in October 2020 writing this editorial on the just-released Acer Chromebook Spin 311 (3H) with a 1366 x 768px IPS touchscreen.

It has been six years and yet all 11.6-inch Chromebooks still come with the exact same size and dimension screen. They've improved brightness, responsiveness, and color, but they're still cheap low-res touchscreens and if Chromebooks want to conquer the computer world they need to upgrade!

We know that you can get bright 1080p touchscreen panels without breaking the bank. We know this because the Lenovo Chromebook Duet has one while only costing $250. So it's tradition and laziness that has kept Chromebooks wading in the shallow end of the screen pool, to the detriment of users everywhere.

Lenovo Chromebook Duet is great for comics!

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

I work on 11.6-inch Chromebooks most of the time, and they're technically not bad, but you'll still see pixels when you flip over into Stand or Tablet mode, not to mention whenever you screenshot anything. Screenshots are also low-quality because of the screen size. It also makes the display size slider practically useless because while the system can zoom in, it looks bad at any resolution other than "native."

This gets even more inexcusable when you remember that there are 13 and 14-inch Chromebooks still being offered with 1366 x 768px screens in 2020 in the name of cost-cutting for bulk business buyers. It's shameful for manufacturers to offer sub-par resolution screens in 2020, and it's even more shameful for schools and businesses to buy them and perpetuate the cycle! END THE MADNESS!

Basically all Android phones have been 1080p for years. it's long past time for Chromebooks to do the same!

Time to upgrade from 11.6 to 12 inch screens

Lenovo C340 in the wilds of Animal Kingdom

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

While we're discussing screens, it's time to shrink the bezels around the screen and swap up from 11.6-inches to 12-inches. The laptops would still be the same physical size and you'd still have at least a half-inch bezel on all sides for holding the Chromebook in tablet mode, but you'd add almost 5% more screen for your users.

This would allow us to see more on the screen at one time, would make the upgrade to 1080p even more vital, and make it easier for students to split-screen their notes and Google Meet while they're distance learning. Yes, this will require a slight price increase at first, but it will be absolutely worth it and it wouldn't take long for pricing to adjust once the de facto screen size for Chromebook manufacturers changes.

The upgrade would also help budget Chromebooks look a little less outdated and clunky, since the thing most people notice first on a sub-$300 Chromebook is "holy crap, look at those bezels". Bigger screen and less ridiculous bezels would help Chromebooks look a little more refined while still being useable as extra-large tablets.

32GB Chromebooks — it's time for 64GB to be the new standard

Lenovo Flex 5 Chromebook ports

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Four years ago, 32GB of storage on a Chromebook with microSD to augment it made sense. After all, the only things you were downloading were regular files, which you could store anywhere. Then Android apps became standard, and 32GB became tiny.

Due to the unique permissions structures Chromebooks have for external storage, most apps cannot properly utilize micro/SD storage to store app data, nor can Android apps be moved to the SD card the way they could on Android phones. This means that if you start installing games or downloading video in apps like Disney+ or Google TV, you can only use internal storage and you will fill it almost instantly.

ASUS C214 Storage Breakdown

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

A 32GB Chromebook only has about 15GB of free space because of all the space system files take up, and that's absolutely laughable for a laptop in 2020 no matter how cloud-based your computing style.

64GB needs to be the new standard for storage. That'll give users about 45GB of storage to use after system data — three times more than a 32GB Chromebook does — which is especially important when new Chromebooks are getting 8-10 years of support now.

4GB of RAM bring the only option for budget Chromebooks

Lenovo Chromebook C340-15

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Another spec that needs an upgrade given the long life ahead of new Chromebooks is memory. 4GB of RAM finally became the standard about three years ago, but now that Chromebooks are getting more and more capable — and video conferencing is a major use case for work from home and distance learning — 4GB isn't enough. The time has come for 8GB to be an option across the board.

Not everyone needs a Project Athena Chromebook like the Acer Chromebook Spin 713, but even compact, Celeron-powered Chromebooks like the Dell Chromebook 3100 2-in-1 can see marked improvement from 8GB of RAM when video calls get into the mix.

Dell 3100 2-in-1

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

There were far too many Chromebooks in 2020 that were capped at 4GB of RAM — great laptops like the Lenovo Flex 5 — and millions of education users immediately found the limit of 4GB on their school-issued Chromebooks when the lockdowns and daily Google Meet marathons started in March. 8GB is likely more important than a touchscreen to schools, and the only education-grade 11.6-inch Chromebook with an 8GB option is the Dell 3100, which has had an 6+ month wait since mid-May (for this exact reason).

Even when you're not trying to juggle 15 tabs during a video call with 30 of your coworkers, 8GB of RAM is important for a variety of tasks, especially newer options like streaming game services and Parallels for using Windows applications (which actually needs 16GB, but is also limited to Enterprise clients right now).

While you can somewhat augment your storage with microSD cards and external drives, once you're out of RAM, you're out of luck. So let's stop scraping by on 4GB and jump to 8GB instead.

Chromebooks can't keep using the exact same name year after year

Acer Chromebook Spin 311

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

I am currently typing away on the Acer Chromebook Spin 311, AKA the Acer CP311, but it's the fifth model to bear that name. Acer makes this even harder to sort out than HP does, which is saying a lot considering HP has had the same names for its Chromebooks for a god-damn decade.

Quit calling it the Chromebook 11 G8 or the Spin 311 (3H). Just stop the madness, please. Chromebooks are not like cars; the old model doesn't vanish from showrooms the second a new one appears, they hang around in stores for years, confusing retail clerks and customers alike as to which one is the new one and which one is the old one.

You shouldn't need a decoder ring to decipher Chromebook generations.

This gets especially annoying when you're trying to figure out what the expiration date for a Chromebook is. The Auto Update Expiration date is listed for each and every Chromebook, but unless you've got the exact model number on a listing or the box, good luck figuring out which Acer or HP you've got.

Actually, that's not entirely true: I have had exact model numbers on some HP Chromebooks and still not been able to figure out what the AUE date was. It was an HP Chromebook 14, but it didn't have a G number and it didn't fit the a/c/d model series on the list. I write about this for a living and even I need a decoder ring for some of these.

Lenovo C330 and C340-11

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Chromebooks need a new number each generation. For instance, in 2018, we had the Lenovo Chromebook C330, and in 2019, we had the Lenovo Chromebook C340. The C340 had two sizes, so we had the C340-11 and the C340-15. The next version will probably be called the Lenovo C350. Nice, straightforward, and each model has a different enough name to be easily distinguished from its predecessor.

The trend that needs to end over all others

Chromebooks are here to stay and 2020 has proven that not only are Chromebooks more than capable of being robust work from home laptops for students and corporate deployment, Chromebooks are great for everyday users. Chromebooks are good for casual computing as well as full-time work, and we can finally end the trend of everyone calling Chromebooks "not real computers".

Chromebooks are real computers. Now let's make them even better in 2021.

Ara Wagoner

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.

  • I 100% agree with all of these. I get that the education market likes the super cheap options and I guess OEM's can keep making those specifically for that purpose but otherwise for regular consumers they need to pay attention to this article.
  • I think it's mainly b/c they are using old PC parts meant for windows 2000 from the inventory to minimize any costs. Also, just give me shift lock dang it.
  • Yep. They are using old PC parts. HP just launched a Chromebook that is a member of their HP Stream line for the failed Windows 10S platform (seriously Microsoft is replacing it with Windows 10X next year) save the OS and CPU. It is either put those parts in Chromebooks - where at least education and "I want the cheapest computer that Best Buy or Walmart has" crowd will buy them - or send them to the scrap yard.
  • Yeah ... none of these trends need to die. This is the equivalent of stating that no Android phone should cost less than $200 when in reality that is over 1/3 of the market and without Android phones that cheap a lot of OEMs - Motorola, Nokia, Alcatel/TCL etc. - would be out of business (at least in terms of Android phones) tomorrow. If you mandate a 12' 1080p screen with 64 GB of storage, you would take away like 60% of Chromebook sales. Nearly all the education sector Chromebooks are 11.6' 1366x768 resolution with 16/32 GB storage devices because they are locked down to be web/PWA devices only and disallow Android and Linux apps. The rest are just people looking for the cheapest computer - which in this era means web accessing device - possible without having to deal with the Windows drama. These folks aren't going to install local applications or use much in the way of local files - and if they do, thumb drives meet their needs just like they have for Windows PCs for like 15 years - and the screen size and resolution is just fine for YouTube and Netflix. Those of us who want to use Chromebooks to either replace Android tablets or to have more practical Linux ultrabooks will still have plenty of options to choose from. But as with Android phones, don't forget about the horse that is actually pulling the cart. Android's 3 billion market share is dominated by devices that cost less than $200 (when you include phones and tablets) which sustains an ecosystem that allows the flagship phones to exist in. Similarly, the reliable revenue that come from OEMs being able to repurpose their unsold Windows parts into ChromeOS devices that people will actually buy is what allows Lenovo, Acer, Asus and HP to experiment with higher end devices in the first place. If you think that Chromebooks with Intel i5 (or even i3) processors, 8 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage are what FINALLY got ChromeOS above 10% market share - thereby forcing the media and analysts to take it seriously - you aren't being realistic. At all. Instead, it was devices like the Lenovo Duet and the under-$350 Chromebooks used for education (whether bought by schools or by parents for distance learning) that got the platform this far. Project Athena and Tiger Bay (as well as their AMD equivalents) and Qualcomm 8c/7c devices for enterprises and enthusiasts like us are going to make up wave 3 (with education being wave 1 and Android/Linux users being wave 2) but it is going to take awhile before such devices are going to be seen as viable alternatives to Windows and macOS devices for very many people.
  • Yeah I'm gonna have to go ahead and disagree. They can offer what the article is stating without raising the price. OEMs just don't want to because it would lower their margins by a small amount.
  • Honestly, no they can't. Excluding sale price, Chromebooks start at $170 at Best Buy and Wal-Mart. In addition, schools frequently buy Chromebooks in bulk for less than $150 and at times even under $100. You should realize that when we are talking about prices this low, margins are razor thin. Even for some of the more expensive - i.e. $270 as opposed to $170 Chromebooks - that have touchscreens, 4 $B of RAM< 32 GB storage instead of 16 GB and 2-in-1 modes ... you do realize that they still cost $50 to $100 less than Windows 10/10S laptops with the same specs? As Microsoft often gives OEMs flat/bulk rates on licenses, the difference isn't THAT MUCH, ok? Dell and HP till now basically ignored the Chromebook market - especially Dell - for a reason. The profit margins on those devices are extremely low. So much that adding 12' 1080p panels, 8 GB RAM and 64 GB storage would erase any incentive to sell the devices. Amazon is able to sell their electronics at cost because their services ride on their electronics. People use them to buy books, rent movies and otherwise shop. But Acer, Asus and the rest have no way of making money on Chromebooks without a per-device margin, especially since Google doesn't allow manufacturers to pad their margins by adding bloatware as they can on cheap Windows machines (and cheap Android phones).
  • I know it's not a direct comparison but if a £249 next gen Xbox can offer 10gb of RAM then there are no excuses for a measly 4gb in any computer.
  • Consoles are possibly the best example out there of a device that is funded by an ecosystem. Both Sony and Microsoft accept losses on new consoles (often on the bill of materials, let alone development costs), expecting to get the money back over the lifespan of the console as people buy games -- there's a license fee on each and every console game, which is why they're so expensive.
  • One Chromebook trend that ACTUALLY needs to die ... no LTE or 5G connectivity except on a VERY FEW usually obscure models. A manufacturer can put a MediaTek Dimensity SOC in a Chromebook and get all 3: ChromeOS support (obviously)
    very good Android app support
    decent Linux app support
    Integrated 5G in a device that doesn't cost that much more than the $279 for the Lenovo Duet (which has a non-5G MediaTek chip). And more expensive configurations i.e. devices with 8-16 GB of RAM and 1080p or 4K screens can scale up the MediaTek 5G chip accordingly. You don't even need to use MediaTek. You can also put Qualcomm 765G/690/7cx/8cx chips with 5G in devices of varying price (though probably not THAT much since Linux isn't supported on Qualcomm). You can also put Intel or AMD CPUs as usual and spend a few extra bucks to buy a 5G modem from MediaTek like Dell did for their 5G Windows laptop. There is no reason why 5G isn't as commonplace on Chromebooks as it is on iPads and Android tablets - it should arguably be MORE commonplace - but manufacturer apathy plus lack of leadership from Google (who promotes "instant tethering with Pixel phones" instead).
  • They definitely need 5g/LTE support, this would give them a further edge
  • "Chromebooks are here to stay and 2020 has proven that not only are Chromebooks more than capable of being robust work from home laptops for students and corporate deployment, Chromebooks are great for everyday users." I love how you end the article with this after telling us all the reasons 2020 proved Chromebooks aren't able to keep up with corporate and school needs given their lack of great specs.